The 21st century has seen the film industry take great strides in special effects and technology. The formula is so readily available and accessible these days that every other science fiction flick feels a big studio-financed project.
Despite these advancements, films that do succeed are the ones with smart writing and original conceptualization. This list is an attempt to identify and bring to your attention those films, which combine their technical prowess with beautiful, humane scripts.
10. Ex Machina
A starry-eyed tech prodigy, Caleb, wins a week with the CEO of his company, Nathan Bateman, at his secluded estate. His purpose is ascertained as he is to perform a Turing test on a humanoid AI that Bateman has built, Ava, and put her through the filter of consciousness and emotions.
The initial awe is quickly replaced by frightening revelations by Ava about Nathan being a narcissistic and compulsive liar. The two concoct an escape plan as Nathan becomes more unpredictable and dangerous with time.
Garland’s debut is rather bittersweet in terms of how things pan out. His narrative choices are clever and unexpected, ably supported by a wonderful cast. The minimalist setting complements Garland’s eerie atmosphere and raveled storyline. The well-rounded characters are optimally used to bring to life a shocking and relevant story of betrayal, intertextuality of man’s emotion and his surroundings, and a scary future that just might be.
9. The Endless
For a night simply reserved for bated breathing and watching two moons in the sky, “The Endless” is the perfect movie. It effectively matches the growing legend of obscure cults prompting mass suicides and the fallacy of mythical beasts to produce a more than impressive sci-fi horror. Justin reluctantly decides to go back to a cult commune with his brother, Aaron, who is smitten with the life at camp, after receiving a video from the members.
While many welcome their return, Justin finds it hard to resist weird occurrences around the camp. As the occurrences get more peculiar and dangerously tangible with passing time, the brothers discover a larger play at hand that might confirm their greatest fears about the camp.
The directors, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, play the leads, while the former completes a triple whammy, also writing the screenplay for the film. Without being assuming or offensive to the people who earnestly believe in cults, they sculpt an entertaining, clever, and a bizarre story that is equal parts amusing and terrifying.
The film successfully preserves the incorporeal form of the ‘entity’ that haunts the brothers and the other members of the camp, leaving the viewer’s imagination to create a Lovecraftian-like monster feeding on people’s faiths.
8. Midnight Special (2016)
Jeff Nichols is a special filmmaker blessed with an innate and unique sense of a poignant understanding of human life. His five features, each spanning across different genres and with distinct setups, point towards an inherently obvious cultivation of empathy in his stories through the troubled protagonists.
“Midnight Special” brings us the journey of an eight-year-old child, Alton Meyer, on the run with his apparent abductors, Lucas and Roy Tomilin. Part of a cult called the Ranch, Roy and Alton, who are later revealed to be father and son, head toward a location, specified by Alton, to face the ‘judgment day.’ With the entire government’s resources unified to prevent them from reaching the location, and his own internal turmoil, Alton’s life becomes just more difficult.
Much like his other films, Nichols’ foray into a genre film builds itself as a mountain of mysteries in its run time. The focus seems to pose more and more questions, rather than finding explanations for everything that happens within the film’s universe. Nichols finds himself with an embarrassment of riches in terms of the strong performances from a well-balanced ensemble.
“Midnight Special,” with its compassionate characters and intriguing conceptualization, is a desperate howl for answers that never quite comes to its resolution, marking another fine addition to the director’s growingly eye-catching filmography.
7. Children of Men (2006)
“Children of Men” was the trampoline upon which Alfonso Cuaron boosted himself with from obscurity to global fame. The celebrated filmmaker, who is still fresh from his Oscar double win courtesy of his prismatic and nostalgic look at his past in “Roma,” sent shockwaves with his first real success, “Children of Men.”
The film’s universe is set in a dystopian present where infertility threatens a forlorn end for the species. While governments of the world close their borders to immigrants and their hearts to humanity, secret forces work to preserve the future. A British intelligence officer becomes embroiled in an impending revolution that wills to alter the present and create a new future.
Cuaron’s trademark long shots are found in abundance in “Children of Men.” The complex takes are interwoven so brilliantly with the schematic structure of the story that they almost never feel forced and embellish the overall narration.
With his frequent collaborator Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki, Cuaron created a modern masterpiece that perfectly balances heavy, emotional themes with thrilling, impalpable tension that you could cut with a knife. The car scene with Julianne Moore and Clive Owen deserves a special nod for its conception off the camera, and the insurmountable craft in it.
Denis Villeneuve’s stature as a contemporary visionary is uncontested. The French-Canadian filmmaker has made astounding strides in creating his own trademark and brand as a creator of original, riveting, and satisfying content. Villeneuve’s stories often resist labels, with a conscious defiance to be tied down to something restricted.
His stories combust more through their emotion and empathetic characters and Villeneuve’s humanist touch, rather than the brevity of the script or technical flawlessness, although they’re pretty much present. “Arrival” strikes similar notes to a refreshing story that prefaces an important and polite reminder to the world about the importance of communication and togetherness.
After 12 mysterious extraterrestrial pods station themselves in different parts of the world, linguistics expert Professor Louise Banks is marched down to one of the sites to comprehend strange messages by the creatures. She works on developing processes to initiate the translation with physicist Ian Donnelly.
The complex concentric circles in their first liaison are decoded as “offer weapon,” which is misconstrued by Chinese scientists as “use weapons.” This leads to confusion and the eventual revelation of Louise’s remarkable gift.
Villeneuve paces “Arrival” to perfection. The rather rugged and seemingly languid first hour is integrated with a nervy second, without ever compromising the story. The pieces that seem scrambled and distantly related culminate in a thrilling and deeply satisfying ending.
More than a brilliantly sculpted original idea, the beating heart of “Arrival” is its sophisticated and sensible story, at the core of which is Amy Adams’ magnetic performance and Bradford Young’s technical panache.
A state-of-the-art handheld rig in 2019: The Arri Alexa Mini.
Do you still shoot video handheld? It’s a valid question these days as so many shooters are utilizing gimbals, Steadicam-like devices, sliders and drones. It seems as if the new visual vocabulary demands increasingly growing amounts of camera movement to be considered visually relevant. It seems as if in some people’s minds, the fine art of handheld shooting is a dying art. It’s interesting to take a look at a feature like any of the Marvel films, any of the Bourne Identity franchise and decide that handheld must be on its last legs, right?
Of course, these days it can also be difficult to decode exactly how a given shot is photographed and how the camera was moved and supported to give that result.
In higher-end features and television, the budgets allocated for this sort of programming also allow for creative tools such as Technocranes, Russian Arms mounted on Porsches and, of course, the ever-present Fisher or Chapman dolly that weighs hundreds of pounds and often has its own crew assigned to set it up, move it and break it down.
All of these tools can provide exceptionally smooth and lithe movement in situations where moving a heavy cinema camera smoothly used to be difficult to impossible.
Those tools are typically only utilized on projects that have a lot more than just four or five zeros in their budget though. What about camera movement for the non-Hollywood budget like most of us shoot on? For me, personally, I’m starting to see a resurgence of handheld operating. Handheld shooting never went completely away and, in fact, most of the TV shows that I’ve worked on over the past five years were largely, and some exclusively, handheld or handheld mixed with some Steadicam for walking/follow shots. If a lot of TV and features are still being shot handheld, why have we seen such massive popularity in moving your camera with mechanical assistance over the past few years?
It’s really logical if you think about it. The Digital Revolution in production that began somewhere around the mid-1990s with Sony’s introduction of the DCR-VX1000 DV camcorder not only brought small size and weight with high-quality image acquisition to the forefront, but it also brought a whole new way of thinking about how and where you could mount a camera. The one place it was difficult to mount a camera as small and light as the DVX1000 was your shoulder.
Those of us who came from shooting Betacams, Digital Betacams and S16 film cameras were used to shooting cameras that were ergonomic masterpieces that weighed perhaps 10to 25 pounds. Your shoulder, besides a tripod, dolly or original Steadicam, was really the only practical place to mount the camera when shooting handheld.
Shooting smooth but dynamic handheld footage is an art. The main ingredients besides skill and muscle control are weight, mass and inertia. Without going deep into a physics lesson, these characteristics made moving the camera smoother than a super small and lightweight camera like the VX1000.
While it was very small and light, camera operators soon discovered that it was tough to move a camera so small and lightweight smoothly unless it was mounted on a tripod or dolly. Its Handycam form factor couldn’t be mounted on the shoulder very easily (remember, this was well before the days of the numerous build-out kits for shoulder mounting DSLRs and mirrorless cameras that we have in 2019); therefore, the easiest way to shoot handheld was by gripping the handgrip and/or carrying handle.
This resulted in fewer points of contact between the operator’s body and the camera, and the result was shakier, more jittery footage. It was easy to be smooth with the 25-pound shoulder-mounted Betacam but a lot more difficult with the new generation of small cameras.
Fast-forward to today and a lot of newer shooters seem to be waking up to the fact that for the most part, gimbals and Steadicam-like devices are, in a way, one-trick ponies. If you’ve used either, you quickly realize that your options for movement are actually pretty limited as far as speed, variety and options to move the camera in and out of confined spaces. The interesting thing about shooting handheld is that the variety of shots and ways you can move the camera are almost limitless—it all depends on your skills as a handheld operator and your preferences about how the camera should relate to your subject.
For me, personally, I have been shooting tripod, gimbal and with a motorized slider quite a bit over the past few years. It’s not that I quit shooting handheld; I’ve been shooting my own documentary film about two women athletes largely handheld but our clients have tended to want more tripod and gimbal shooting than handheld over the past few years. Makes sense—for interviews, they tend to favor one camera locked off with a second camera/angle on a slider. It’s a nice, safe, “polite” way to move the camera.
As I’ve moved back toward handheld shooting, though, I’ve been challenged by my choice of gear. My main camera has largely been the Canon C200, before that the C100 MKI and the C300, with occasional rentals of the Sony FS7, various RED cameras and occasionally an Arri Amira. Most of these cameras are either useful as a shoulder-mounted camera (Sony FS7 and Arri Amira) or have enough weight and heft to be useful as a handheld cradled camera (all of the Canons, the REDs).
Lately, I’ve been using the Fujifilm XT-3 more and more though. It’s the first mirrorless camera I’ve bought, thanks to its amazing image quality, color science, build quality and Fujinon XF lenses. It’s a great camera that packs a lot of value into its tiny size, weight and cost. I soon discovered though that it was a terrible handheld video camera. It’s too small, light and has very little mass or inertial motion. I have used the XT-3 quite a bit on our Zhiyun Crane 2 where it works very well as a gimbal camera.
When I’d try to use the XT-3 handheld, though, the footage was less than professional looking, no matter how fluidly I tried to hold the camera and move it through space. I’d see something known as micro jitter in the image. Micro jitter is a term that refers to the small, shaky movement of a handheld camera; it’s very fatiguing to watch and makes the footage look very unprofessional. Even when utilizing an optically stabilized lens (Fuji calls this feature OIS), I was still seeing some jitter and undesired movement no matter how steady I’d try to hold my camera.
I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to add some weight, mass and inertia to my XT-3 rig in order to tame the Micro jitter and smooth out the movement. Fortunately, there are numerous companies that provide all kinds of camera support options. One of my favorites is a Chinese company called Small Rig. They’re available at plenty of pro video retailers but are also sold on Amazon.com. Their products are very good quality but sell for a fraction of the cost that most other pro video accessory companies charge.
Here are some images of my Fujifilm XT-3 rigged up for handheld camera use. The stock Fujifilm XT-3 weighs only 1.19 pounds with battery and SD card, with the lens adding perhaps a pound or two more, depending on which lens is used. After rigging up my XT-3 with the optional Fujifilm VG-XT3 battery grip, the Small Rig 2229 cage, 2156 Cable Clamp, 1984 Top Handle, 2093 Rosewood Side Handle, mounting a Røde Video Mic, an Atomos Shinobi monitor mounted to the cage with a Cinevate ¼” 20 to ¼” 20 ball mount, the entire rig weighs a little over 6 pounds.
The additional functionality of adding two more Fujifilm camera batteries via the battery grip has tripled the battery life. I can now monitor the image with the Shinobi monitor to see what I’m shooting and if it’s in focus and exposed correctly via the waveform monitor function, as well as applying a LUT to the footage. The Røde Video Mic makes ambient sound gathering easy. The Fujifilm isn’t the perfect shoulder-mounted ergonomic dream camera, but with the addition of the camera rig and the additional functionality, I’m now shooting better handheld footage than I ever could with just the bare camera and a lens.
Handheld camera movement can bring immediacy to the movement that other methods simply can’t. The whole rig, even with the additions, is still much smaller and lighter than a gimbal package or motored slider. It’s kind of amazing that just a few hundred dollars of accessories have turned my small mirrorless camera into a fully capable pro-level handheld rig.
The original Tokina Cinema 50-135mm has become one of my favorite lenses. I shoot people delivering promo lines to camera a lot and having a portrait telephoto oriented focal length is a big plus. On the stills lens side, the Canon 24-105mm gets a lot of use. It’s a full frame lens so with approximately … Continued
When Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour premiered in 2015, the 317-minute film raised a lot of questions, not least of which: who precisely was Hamaguchi, and what has he been doing for the last decade? There were some unkind trade reviews of his first feature films (Passion and The Depths) but not much else in English to draw upon, and his iMDB resume (including a full feature remake of Solaris!) raised more questions than it answered. Metrograph’s recent retrospective provided some clarity. After his first two features, Hamaguchi collaborated on a trilogy of documentaries collecting testimonies from victims of 2011’s Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, […]
Knowing where and how to focus is one of the most crucial steps to getting crisp and sharp landscape photos. This helpful video will give you five tips and techniques on how to properly focus your landscape photos to get tack-sharp images.
The “Up” script crushed our hearts in the opening five pages, only to spend the next ninety-five putting it back together. Let’s look at some lessons for the script.
I saw the movie Up in a theater in Ocean City, New Jersey on a family vacation. It was raining and there was nothing to do. So we traipsed into the theater not knowing what to expect. My entire family got emotionally rocked and now, every time I see a balloon, I get all choked up thinking about the meaning of everlasting love.
That might just be me, but I bet you’ve found similar circumstances surrounding the movie unless your heart is made of stone.
So, today we’re going to go over the Up screenplay, look at a few lessons, and talk about why it’s so effective.
And don’t forget to download the Up screenplay PDF in the link below the trailer.
Travel tripods are supposed to be lightweight and compact…that’s kind of their thing.
However, this new unit from Peak Design takes it all to another level by incorporating loads of exciting features and specs into their first travel tripod, including versatile mounting options, single-ring head adjustment, and groundbreaking architecture that completely eliminates wasted space, making it one of the most lightweight, compact tripods on the market.
Check out this promo to get a better idea of what we’re dealing with here:
So, what’s special about Peak Design’s travel tripod? With affordable gimbals and drones gimbal-ing and drone-ing around, why would this new generation of shooters get excited about a boring tripod?
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is on Amazon Prime Video and is in its second season. Last season, editor Kate Sanford, ACE, won the ACE Eddie for Best Edited Comedy Series for Non-Commercial Television for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Episode: “Simone.” Sanford has won previous ACE Eddies for Treme and The Wire. Tim Streeto, ACE is the other editor on the series and was nominated for an ACE Eddie for his work on the series as well, for the episode, “We’re Going to the Catskills!” Streeto also has a past ACE Eddie nomination for “Boardwalk Empire.”
Sanford and Streeto have both worked together on the TV series Boardwalk Empire, Vinyl and are currently working on the series Fosse/Verdon.
Streeto’s other credits include editing the feature films The Squid and the Whale, and The Only Living Boy in New York. Sanford’s feature editorial work includes Outside Providence and O. Sanford also worked on TV shows, The Deuce, The Wire and Sex and the City.
HULLFISH: There is some pretty elaborate choreography of both the camera and the blocking of the actors. Can you talk to me about using those shots or those scenes?
STREETO: One of the first things we found working on the show was that Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino — our showrunners who direct most of the episodes — design these very beautifully blocked scenes that are sometimes shot as oners. Amy used to be a dancer, I think it probably comes from that background. She really sees the camera and the actors working together as a dance.
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Our primary DP is David Mullen and he’s amazing at building these things. And we have great Steadicam operators on the show, Larry McConkey and his brother Jim. What’s interesting editorially is that we’ll get 15, 16, sometimes more takes of the oners and we’ll see the progression from the first take as they iron out the kinks and tweak the blocking. Usually, there’s one hero take but my first instinct when I see a oner is to look for a place to cut, to see if I can get the best parts of several takes. On our show, there aren’t a lot of quick camera movements that you can hide a cut in or a morph or something, but there’s some manipulation that can be done sometimes. But our crew and cast are so great at executing these shots that there’s always at least one really great take.
SANFORD: One of the hardest things about editing the show is what to do with a Steadicam shot or a series of Steadicam shots to speed them up? One of the first sequences I put together in season one was when Susie comes to find Midge at home and they take a Steadicam tour around her apartment. Then they go upstairs and take another Steadicam tour around the parents’ apartment. There are a couple of cutaways but mostly I’m cutting in and out of these giant, beautifully choreographed masters. I put it together and nervously brought it to Amy on set and she just had just one note which was: “faster.”
So that was my introduction to her as a director, and I wondered how am I going to make basically two Steadicam shots go faster. First I’m going to take out every frame of air that I can when I have a chance to cut. But how do you almost invisibly pull things together- whether it’s doing fluid morphs or speed changes or, like Tim said, blending things together, which doesn’t work very often. We use every trick we can find to make things go quickly and then if — God forbid there’s a pause in the action — maybe there’s a line that we can add to fill in that off-camera pause.
STREETO: It’s less that the camera needs to move quickly and more because the dialogue needs to be flowing freely.
SANFORD: Just keep it snappy.
STREETO: You’ll sometimes hear some sound design or some extra lines of ADR that we’ve added to fill the — I wouldn’t call it “dead space” — but just the air in those scenes.
SANFORD: Like Ethan going, “Hey lady! Hey lady!” in that sequence. Just filling in a little breath where there isn’t any dialogue.
HULLFISH: Just to basically keep the rhythm of the dialogue up?
SANFORD: Yes, to keep the rhythm of the dialogue going.
STREETO: The pace was really the first thing we had to get right on the show. The scripts are long. They’re like 80 pages and it’s a one hour show. So people are talking very quickly. That was something that took some getting used to. But the writing is very strong. There aren’t jokes stepping on top of each other. They really know how to write so that a little laugh, followed by a bigger laugh, doesn’t get jammed up in the faster pace. You feel that as you’re watching the actors perform in dailies. Then when we cut it, it gets faster. Then once Dan and Amy get into it, we tighten it up even more. “It’s gotta be faster.”
SANFORD: It’s hard to do it on the first pass even if you’re trying your best to cut as fast as you can. There’s still little bits of air. I think percentage-wise my editing time breaks down to 30 percent assembly, 70 percent tweaking and re-cutting.
SANFORD: I’ll just keep honing and the micro-tweaking of frames is really important on this show. I think that’s really where we perfect our rhythm. We both really try to tighten our episodes by ourselves, and then when we get in the room with Amy and Dan they say, “OK, pull that together. Pull THAT together.” We take out every frame we can. I usually work with waveforms turned on in my timeline so that I can see really how tight I can get and I’ll use at least two tracks so I can overlap just the slightest bit. But once we get it that tight THEN we look at it and say, “now, maybe we’re going too fast. Let’s put a breath here. Let’s just stop for a tiny bit of emphasis there,” and those pauses can be very meaningful.
STREETO: The other thing about the show is that it’s not just a comedy. It’s not “30 Rock.” We have moments like when Midge sees her father in the audience at the Concord and that’s a very heavy moment. His discovery of her secret career aspiration is a big moment with a lot of weight, so you have to play those dramatic beats too. So it’s a delicate balance to find.
HULLFISH: I was also struck by the fact that the two of you must have to be concerned with maintaining the pacing of the dialogue between the scenes where they’re oners and the scenes that are more edited normally, like the scene in Paris where Midge is eating dinner with her parents and all of the shots are cut between medium shots. They have to feel rhythmically like the oners.
SANFORD: Right. Exactly. That was a tough scene. At the same time that all this is happening and we’re pulling up the pace and sometimes we’re pulling it up faster than it was performed, we have to maintain perfect continuity with the behavior of the actors. And I would say that these actors are challenged to do more with props and dialogue simultaneously than on anything I’ve ever seen. They are given more business to do by moving things around with their hands, eating, drinking, smoking, whatever they’re doing, as well as complicated blocking — moving from one place in the room to another — while saying their lines at record speed. The expectation is that all the continuity will be perfect and our showrunners notice more than I would expect. They have an eagle eye, so we can’t get away with much. Sometimes we’ll need to pull out our digital toolkits again to make sure everything matches perfectly.
HULLFISH: It’s an interesting point about the props and stuff because that’s where I definitely notice myself having trouble with continuity is — for example — somebody petting a dog. As an actor or as a human being, you kind of just want to pet the dog whenever you want, but if you don’t pet the dog the same way in the wide shot and the close-up, there’s no cutting them if you have to maintain continuity.
STREETO: As Kate said, anything where people are drinking and smoking is always challenging. Our cast is really amazing at maintaining continuity though. Especially the women, because it’s a period show and they’re in high heels all the time and they have purses, they have hats, they have gloves, coats. They have this beautiful wardrobe that they have to fluidly take off and put on, move around, put their purse down the same way.
It’s stuff that women don’t necessarily have as much of today, so they’re really performing all of that technical stuff on top of keeping the pace of their dialogue and performance going. I’ve worked on other things where the actors are more “Method” and loose in the way that they handle those mechanics. Of course, you want actors working on performance and not worrying about continuity, but it can really change the way you cut the scene, based on when they’re taking a drag off their cigarette or whatever.
HULLFISH: One of the things that I was just stunned by and I can’t imagine how you cut around it was there was a great scene in a French nightclub with a couple of transvestites and a woman that was impromptu translating Midge’s act for her as she was speaking and you had to overlap the English and French dialogue.
SANFORD: That was really hard. When I first looked at the script there were literally two columns on the page of solid dialogue: one English and one French, which are meant to be performed simultaneously. I immediately wondered how it was going to work. How would they record it? How would I edit it? Amy and Dan are so ambitious, they insisted that it worked in the 2-shots as well as their isolated singles. It was obviously a lot of editing work to find takes that could cut together, but I give so much credit to Rachel Brosnahan and the actress who played the translator, Leslie Fray — she just did an incredible job.
So I was able to pick takes and cut them together carefully where they were speaking at the same time. And we did not re-record any of that dialogue. There might have been a place where I wanted to cut where that cut point didn’t match exactly in terms of continuity (hand gestures, head positions) or on the very word where I was cutting (the English and French weren’t overlapping in exactly the same way from one shot to another) but I managed to finesse it and smooth it over or paste a word in here or there. I had some high school French, so I had a basic understanding of the lines.
We didn’t have wild track but we had one setup each where they were in singles speaking without the other character’s audio. So there were opportunities where I could replace a few words and I did some dialogue surgery. And then when it was all over I insisted that we get a native French speaker to come in here and certify that it all made sense, because I could imagine that in cutting from one angle to another I would lose a syllable of French that was important and if you are a native French speaker the illusion would be broken. So somebody came in and we did a teensy bit of tweaking, but it just gave me the confidence to say, “we can put this out there and even people who speak French will be delighted.”
HULLFISH: Kate, you and I had a conversation on one of your previous projects that there were some rules against pre-lapping but on this show, I definitely heard pre-laps. Are there any specific rules about cutting on this show? It also seemed like there were not a lot of reaction shots and basically, you’re almost always on the person speaking?
SANFORD: A lot of times we’re on the person speaking. The showrunners like to see people start to say their lines, it gives the scene more energy, but I don’t think there’s a rule against cutting away. It’s just that we’re cutting so fast that sometimes it just works better to have someone say their line and then cut to the reverse. We definitely do have reaction shots. There’s no rule against that. And the show needs to have a musical flow, so anything that accomplishes that is fair game.
Before, Steve, you and I were talking about The Wire and how difficult it was on a David Simon project to allow for some of the basic grammatical editorial techniques we take for granted- like pre-lapping or using score. We don’t really have specific rules here, but I guess we’ve evolved into a style where we try not to use traditional score as much as using songs as score.
STREETO: I don’t think there’s ever an instance in the script where there’s major pre-lapping or voiceover into the incoming scene or anything. That’s not their style. Their style reminds me of older comedy, like Neil Simon or the Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s really about cutting how it’s funniest. If there’s a funny reaction to a line, you may go with the reaction over the person delivering the funny thing because that’s just where the laugh is. I wouldn’t say there are rules per se, but there’s a lot on the page to guide you.
HULLFISH: Talk to me a little bit about that music. You mentioned not using a lot of score but using a lot of music from the period. Are a lot of those specific cues in the script? Are you two choosing those tracks?
STREETO: They do put a lot of specific tracks in the scripts. They have a really impressive musical vocabulary — Amy and Dan — and they have a box full of iPods where they have their entire record collection digitized and they’ll come in with a little speaker and try a bunch of different stuff, but it’s always a really specific thing that they’re looking for. Their taste is very eclectic, show tunes, jazz, classical. And then for the end credits, we always use a modern (meaning post-1980) song.
SANFORD: It’s like the songs they grew up with in high school.
STREETO: Yeah, like that. It’s a really specific thing that comes almost entirely from them. We do have a library that we’ve been building of stuff that sometimes we’ll throw something on a jukebox or whatever. We really don’t have score. We have a few things every year that get recorded with a full orchestra. Bill Elliot will come in and do a full orchestrated arrangement to sort of get give some breadth to some moments, like “You’re in Paris” or “Shall We Dance?” but we don’t have an original score composer.
HULLFISH: You mentioned kind of an old fashioned comedy feel to the show. I was noticing — having watched a couple of older comedies recently — that a lot of it’s played in wide shots. It’s not a lot of tight stuff, which is really hard to pull off. That’s where the actors are doing their thing and you’re allowing them that space. Talk to me a little bit about coverage. What’s the typical coverage that you’re getting?
SANFORD: We often have traditional coverage. Medium overs and singles. I think for the most part they’re a little looser than traditional television. I think they like to include the environment in the shot because the gorgeous production design helps tell the story. Where possible they like to shoot a two-shot and, as long as the pace will hold, to see two actors performing together.
Like that sequence we were talking about in the French translation: I originally cut it so that it kind of got tighter and tighter as things got more intense. And their idea was to have coverage bouncing back and forth in the middle and then end with them both speaking in a two-shot to see the most spectacular way of showing their interaction if it would work- if they were speaking quickly enough and it was funny, to have them both in the same shot. I try to find opportunities for our main principal actors to be performing together in a medium shot.
STREETO: There’s definitely something visually funny about the contrast between Midge and Susie. They look so different together and their posture is different and there’s a physicality there that is definitely part of the humor. Particularly in Season 2, when we go to the Catskills, Susie is totally a fish out of water. There’s so much wonderful performance stuff that you get in wider shots with these actors.
SANFORD: Amy and Dan also just love set dressing. They love costumes. They just love the full visual look of it and I think that’s really an important part of the show. That informs our editorial decisions. For instance, if it’s a set like the hair salon in the Catskills, it’s so fabulous looking that we don’t necessarily want to break it up into smaller shots. They wanted to see some of those crazy hair dryers and crazy smocks that the ladies wear when they’re getting their hair done. That’s just funny to look at.
HULLFISH: David Mullen the cinematographer. is someone I know and there are just some gorgeous shots. It must be so hard to balance — that first episode Midge walks down a beautifully lit street after her final phone call, and I’d just want to stay with that… but you need to balance “We’ve got these gorgeous visuals” with “We need to tell a story.”
STREETO: We have so many gorgeous shots and weirdly they don’t seem indulgent, ever. He’s just a real artist and we love David because he comes up here to the cutting room a lot to hang out. He’s such a film fan. His references are great, really classic and beautiful but they never feel pretentious. He’s just right in the zone. They love him and his work is amazing.
SANFORD: Yeah. Amy and Dan love him. They all want to make beautiful, beautiful images.
STREETO: I often just stop to marvel at the images.
HULLFISH: I’m fascinated with your point about his references to cinema history and I think a lot of people have referenced what a great value that is. Can you two talk just a little bit about how having some sense of what’s gone before allows you to be a good communicator, a good collaborator? Just being a cinephile what does that do for you?
STREETO: Often I’ll be doing something on the show that will remind me of something that I love. We had a few scenes at Bell Labs that really cracked me up. It was just this giant place full of men in gray suits. Abe has to have several conversations in a “secure room,” where people keep getting buzzed in, interrupting the conversation, and there was great comedy in that. It reminded me of Get Smart. When I saw the dailies, I could feel by the way they shot it and the way it was written that it was that type of comedy. So, yes, it’s exciting to sort of tune in to that, and it’s important to be literate in that way to understand that.
HULLFISH: What I’m interested in is how that understanding of cinema history or great classics for specific directors — how that can help you communicate or collaborate with a director. For example if they say, “I want this to feel like Neil Simon.” You’ve got to understand what that means.
STREETO: I don’t think they’ve ever said it like that, but that is a very interesting question. Those kinds of discussions can happen early on when I meet with directors and producers when I’m interviewing for a job. If you can zero in on some details of the script that remind you of something classic, they usually respond to that well. It shows you have the same reference points, some film literacy, and that’s a good thing to have.
SANFORD: I think early on we definitely had those discussions about “His Girl Friday,” screwball comedy, Preston Sturges. The scripts are always deeply character-based, but they are also extremely verbal. They just love wordplay. Tim and I had the benefit of watching the pilot, which Brian Kates cut. I studied it and was able to talk about it with Dan and Amy when I met them, and I kind of understood at the beginning where they were coming from and what kind of pace they liked. That was more of a starting point for me- to talk about the show that they actually made, not necessarily to talk about movies of the past.
HULLFISH: For a muse or whatever, did you go back and start watching any of those types of comedies that were referenced?
STREETO: No. I’m always torn about watching stuff in preparation for a job I’m doing because I want my work to have a freshness to it, but I also want to be well-versed. Usually I have a pretty strong memory for movies I’ve seen. So I prefer to go off my impressions, my memories. Hopefully then my work can feel “inspired by” instead of “imitating.”
HULLFISH: Something like Umbrellas of Cherbourg was a big inspiration for Damien Chazelle in doing La La Land.
STREETO: I watched that after they did our Paris stuff and I could feel that that’s what they were inspired by. But that was kind of after the fact.
SANFORD: For me I feel like there are two ways to go. Sometimes I spend my time trying to go back and find references and sometimes I think it’s just about sitting in a room and absorbing the rhythm of the person you’re with. And I like to refine just by learning their rules and the style guide that they’re bringing to the piece by making subtle corrections to what you’re doing. For this job anyway, that was enough information because we’re going so quickly and the learning curve was very fast.
STREETO: The show felt very new and we just wanted to bring a fresh vision to that.
HULLFISH: What is your approach to a new scene – a blank timeline and fresh dailies?
STREETO: With standard coverage, my approach is to cut multiple versions of the scene, if possible. I usually start with a version that’s all close-ups, then build out from there, all mediums, figure out how to use the master. Some of my early versions are more like exercises to get familiar with the footage and performances than actual assemblies. It’s methodical, and helps especially when there are a lot of set-ups and I can’t decide how to start. I’ll just start with version one, then version two, then it’s a little easier to see the scene take shape. For something like our standup scenes, I build Rachel’s performance first. Piece by piece. Usually when Midge does standup something goes wrong right before she goes on stage, so it’s awkward. So I have to get her performance right, then figure out the audience reactions.
SANFORD: My approach is much more instinctual. I will sometimes use selects for longer scenes, but I’m too impatient, so I just start building it out. I try to tell myself the story of the scene piece by piece. I know some people will do a close-up version of the entire scene and then a medium or wide shot version of a scene first, then were them together but I’m too impatient. When I’m done with a scene, I will go back in and start making revisions right away- I might decide to do a section in close-up after I watch it through once, so I’ll copy my sequence and revise, experiment, and refine to get to my favorite first version of the scene.
HULLFISH: Dan and Amy have directed many of the episodes, but how do you interact with new directors who come in. In a very real way, you two are more familiar with the show than they are. How do you shepherd them? Or don’t you?
STREETO: TV guest directors don’t get much time in the cutting room, so I’m very careful to allow them to make their version of the episode. They all know that ultimately it’s the show runner’s show, so they may ask you, “Will they like this? Is this OK to do this?” And that gives us a chance to explain our understanding of the style of the show and how it will probably eventually play out. But it’s important for them to work on the episode as they see it, because ultimately it gets recut by the show runners.
SANFORD: A guest director will also tend to shoot more coverage. They need to protect themselves so that if they try something that the show runners don’t love, we can use the coverage to get what they want and especially to pace things up. It does make it a little harder to “find the show” with guest directors, but of course we always manage to bring it into the Maisel world. When Amy and Dan direct, they come in and work with us like any director would, do several passes, then they usually invite the other to come watch and they work in the room and do a pass together. They really complement and support each other.
HULLFISH: Thank you both for a really interesting interview.
The first 50 interviews in the series provided the material for the book, “Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors.” This is a unique book that breaks down interviews with many of the world’s best editors and organizes it into a virtual roundtable discussion centering on the topics editors care about. It is a powerful tool for experienced and aspiring editors alike. Cinemontage and CinemaEditor magazine both gave it rave reviews. No other book provides the breadth of opinion and experience. Combined, the editors featured in the book have edited for over 1,000 years on many of the most iconic, critically acclaimed and biggest box office hits in the history of cinema.
Bruno Delbonnel, AFC, ASC was born in Nancy, France and graduated in 1978 from ESEC film school in Paris. A distinguished cinematographer, he has worked with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Tim Burton, the Coen brothers, Joe Wright and many others. Bruno Delbonnel has been nominated five times for Best Cinematography Oscar: Amélie (2001), A Very Long Engagement (2004), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), and Darkest Hour (2017). On May 24, 2019, Bruno receives the Pierre Angénieux ExcelLens Award in cinematography at the Cannes Film Festival. read more…
Though they came to the full frame mirrorless party a little later than Sony, Canon has been putting out some top-shelf glass as of late. It seems they’re showing no signs of stopping, as we can expect quite the bevy of high quality mirrorless lenses in 2020.
Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport, often shortened to Jean Lesage International Airport, has made camera holes in a range of locations around its perimeter fence to allow photographers an unhindered view of planes taking off, landing and moving along its runways and taxi areas.
The airport has propelled itself to the number one spot for aviation photographers with the project. Metal frames surround the holes to prevent wire scratching lenses and accompanying signs to clarify the area is reserved for photographers.
The airport got together with local plane-spotting group YQB Aviation to identify the best angles for photographers and then created a total of 10 sites all around the airport that provide views of exactly what photographers want to shoot, seen in the image below:
Jean Lesage International Airport which recently won awards for its environmental practices and as an outstanding workplace, and which carried almost 1.8 million passengers in 2018, also hosted a 5km run on its runways earlier this month to offer locals a different view of the airport.
Photo credit: Images by Jean-Lesage International airport, used with permission.
Street photography has captured windows into history across almost two centuries now, and taking a tour through a collection of them is an amazing look at society, individuals, and more and their evolution. Check out this fantastic compilation that shows a photo from every year starting all the way back in 1838.
Storytellers study myths to learn the narrative techniques that make them so powerful. And while interest stops at the technical for some, for many, that’s where it starts.
To study the most powerful stories of all time and what makes them powerful means swimming in deep waters. Most need a guide. Many turn to Campbell. The insights he’s delivered from the depths now permeate Hollywood and the storytelling professions. What follows is an introduction to his ideas through four lenses we use in the Joseph Campbell Writers’ Room: conceptual worlds, archetypal character, symbolic imagery, and mythic narratives.
Quite frankly, neither should you. I understand that we all love our gear and we all have dreams of upgrading and moving on to bigger and better things, but that’s not the real point of it all, not really.
Introducing Glyph’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock and rugged Atom Pro SSD.
Thunderbolt 3 is the single port that provides laptop users with “desktop level performance”, but at the same time, we haven’t seen a ton of accessories that take full advantage of it.
That’s starting to change as new products using Thunderbolt 3 are popping up everywhere.
Gylph Thunderbolt 3 Dock
According to Glyph, the dock “delivers more ports, more power, and more storage at the fastest speeds possible.”
What does that mean, exactly?
Partly that as laptops provide fewer ports as they get sleeker and smaller over time, a dock like this one gives you all the connectivity options you need for dual 4K displays, for example. Between the power offering, the multiple USB 3 ports, audio out and mic in, plus 1GB ethernet and more, the Glyph Thunderbolt 3 provides your laptop with wired access to pretty much everything you need, including power.
So, essentially the Glyph dock allows your MacBook Pro to be connected to a myriad of different accessories while being charged all with a single cable.
Some B&H customers who had recently purchased a Nikon EN-EL15b battery received an unusual email today. The retail giant says it sold a “subpar batch” of the batteries and will be replacing all batteries sold within a certain time frame.
“It has come to our attention that we unfortunately received a subpar batch of Nikon EN-EL15b rechargeable lithium-ion batteries,” B&H writes. Since it is impossible for us to ascertain which of our customers received from the affected batch, we will be replacing all of these batteries sent to our customers regardless of which battery they might have received.
“With regard to the battery you have received, please discontinue use and take the battery to the nearest recycling program. As a resource to help you find a location near you, you can try looking at https://www.call2recycle.org/.
“The batteries should not be thrown in the general trash […] Please do not attempt to ship the battery back to us as it is potentially dangerous to do so.”
B&H says the replacement batteries will be sent out for free to affected customers within the next day or two.
Although B&H states that the batch contained “subpar” batteries, we’re hearing from a trusted source that B&H (and possibly other reputable retailers) accidentally sourced a batch of counterfeit Nikon batteries and sold a number of them to customers before discovering the issue.
Thus, it wasn’t a problem with Nikon manufacturing that produced this “subpar batch,” and Nikon is expected to come out with a public statement saying that it never made or sold those affected batteries.
Nikon EN-EL15b batteries cost around $60 to $70 and are compatible with a number of the company’s DSLR and mirrorless cameras, including the Z6/Z7, D850, D500, and D7500.
As B&H notes in the email, genuine Nikon EN-EL15b batteries were sold alongside the counterfeits, so if you did receive a real one from your purchase, your replacement will score you a second real battery for free.
This morning, DJI hosted a panel of experts in the aviation field, including the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Jay Merkel and AUVSI’s Tracy Lamb, to discuss the implementation of airplane and helicopter detectors in its new consumer drones starting January 1, 2020. Every drone model weighing over 250 grams will have AirSense Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receivers installed.
AirSense technology, which is a product of over 30,000 hours of development efforts by DJI engineers on all security measures, works by receiving ADS-B signals from nearby airplanes and helicopters. It allows drone pilots to detect and avoid traditional aircraft nearby. ‘I was an F-18 pilot years ago, and when you’re going that fast, it’s really hard to see anything. … ADS-B is certainly one of those things that for all pilots, and for controllers as well, becomes a situational awareness tool’ said Houston Mills of UPS Airlines, at the panel.
AirSense is currently embedded in some of DJI’s enterprise-level drones including the Mavic 2 Enterprise. The manufacturer now aims to make the same level of safety and security available to consumers. Instead of relying on sound or sight, ADS-B can identify planes and helicopters from miles away, and display the location on the screen of the remote.
Along with the announcement, DJI has released a comprehensive 37-page ‘Elevating Safety’ white paper outlining efforts they have taken to ensure that drones and their operators remain compliant. One significant burden to innovation in improving safety measures has been the media’s numerous inaccurate portrayals of reckless drone use. Most claims, including the incidents at Gatwick and Newark airports, are still unfounded.
DJI stands by the fact that existing data on drone safety is inaccurate. However, they understand they need to continually focus on research, development, education, and advocacy for solutions that will improve safety. They’ve outlined their intentions with the following 10 points:
1. DJI will install ADS-B receivers in all new drones above 250 grams. 2. DJI will develop a new automatic warning for drone pilots flying at extended distances. 3. DJI will establish an internal Safety Standards Group to meet regulatory and customer expectations. 4. Aviation industry groups must develop standards for reporting drone incidents. 5. All drone manufacturers should install geofencing and remote identification. 6. Governments must require remote identification. 7. Governments must require a user-friendly knowledge test for new drone pilots. 8. Governments must clearly designate sensitive restriction areas. 9. Local authorities must be allowed to respond to drone threats that are clear and serious. 10. Governments must increase enforcement of laws against unsafe drone operation.
These 10 steps are DJI’s proactive plan for addressing the continual growth in the drone industry. It divides responsibility between the government, remote pilots, and the company to ensure drones continue to safely integrate into airspace.
Steven Spielberg is a master of cinema who transports us to magical times and places all through the use of…similar aspect ratios across decades?
I’m a certified Spielberg nut. I love everything he does in its own way and there’s nothing better than going to the theater to see his work. It’s like church. But better hymns. One thing I don’t always notice is the aspect ratio that Spielberg decides to shoot within every one of his films. But someone keeps an eye on it.
Todd Vizari is a blogger and FX guru who put together this useful infographic breaking down Steven Spielberg’s use of aspect ration and his collaboration with cinematographers.